Most of you will remember Richard. Maybe not his name, but probably his face. Richard came to Otley in 2017 and until a few months ago he was to be seen regularly on Kirkgate during the day. At night he slept in a tent in all weathers.
For many, he was the first homeless person they had engaged with. Until first Darren and then Richard arrived, we’d only known homeless people stay for short periods. Not much chance to get to know them.
But lots of people got to know Richard a bit. He was chatty, undemanding, surprisingly optimistic and positive for someone ‘on the streets’. He was intelligent, well-read and able to talk about many subjects. He had a university degree.
Richard was eventually given a flat in Otley but then he went back to his home area of Brighouse. Sadly, we heard recently that he had died in hospital and had his funeral in Brighouse at the end of January.
A few days ago, at short notice, 35 people gathered in our church to remember Richard. Jimmy led a gentle service as we lit a candle, shared simple memories, read from the Bible and joined in prayers. For 15 minutes before we began, Rob tolled the Church.
The gathering of people and the tolling of the bell said that Richard mattered – in a sense proclaimed to Otley that Richard mattered. Many people had taken Richard to their hearts and did many small acts of kindness for him. Brought him food. Stopped to talk. Offered him clothes or a sleeping bag. Treated him as a normal human being. Recognised it as a privilege to be able to assist him.
People who helped Richard found that it wasn’t a one-way street – Richard gave them something in return. He treated them as if they mattered. He told some of his own story. He asked about their story. He shared his infectious optimism. He helped people engage with a real experience of homelessness not some prejudiced caricature. And their life was enriched by meeting him.
Richard was a ‘normal’ kind person whose life was blighted by some bad luck, some bad choices and some difficult relationships. It could have been any of us sitting outside Scope on Kirkgate.
Mostly, Otley folk have been kind and helpful to Richard, caring and concerned; a credit to our community. Sadly, a few have been unpleasant and treated him like he was something less than a person. Richard said he liked being in Otley.
In some ways, Richard holds up a mirror to us. His issues are personal to him but also the result of how we do things collectively, how resources are allocated in our society, how much support the troubled and vulnerable get.
The simple truth is that Richard mattered. His life mattered as much as any other. As well as being appreciated by us, he was and is of infinite value to his heavenly Father. So are you as you read this, whether you are feeling successful and fulfilled or useless.
During Lent, we will be inviting everyone to join a group to participate in the ‘SHAPEcourse’. It’s about discovering your shape by looking at five qualities you embody – your Spiritual gifts, your Heart, your Abilities, your Personality and your Experience.
Everybody matters and everybody has a contribution to make and gifts to share. Don’t undervalue yourself. There is a you-shaped piece of puzzle to fill a you-shaped part in the picture – and only you can fill it.
There is (surprise surprise) a place for everyone, with Christ at the centre.
Your shape will change and vary through time, so it’s a good thing, every now and then, to pause and reflect on who we are becoming and how we fit in. And no better time to do that than as we start the journey of Lent and allow ourselves to be shaped afresh by God who walks with us through the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus.